by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D
Dr. Knight: This is a time of hope in the Church with our spiritually compassionate Pope, Cardinal Cupich and other believers who understand their vision. How do you think they have inspired people?
Father Jason: Pope Francis has called his Pastors to smell like the sheep, or really allow themselves to accompany and to deeply connect themselves with the people of God they serve. Both Pope Francis and Cardinal Cupich call on the Church to be less self-referential and more outwardly focuses on sharing the good news of Jesus with those longing to hear it. Both invitations, and many more, inspire people to want to know more about Jesus and model their lives after Jesus.
Dr. Knight: Did you receive your call to be a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago? How has this call changed over time?
Father Jason: I had the great gift of Catholic grammar school at Nativity B.V.M. and High School at Quigley Seminary South. Both schools, along with my home parish of Nativity, invited me to pray about and discern God’s call in my life. I am so grateful for that nurturing environment that allowed me to reflect and discern God’s call. The call to serve Jesus stays the same, but how to serve Jesus and thecontext in which we serve Jesus has changed drastically! I remember going into our Schools shortly after ordination in 1997 and finding a warm reception. These days, I find that I am received like a nice idea, but certainly not a vocation that young men are thinking about. While I like to think that parishes are nurturing environments, I certainly think it is harder to hear God’s call with co much noise. God has not stopped calling, but I think our cultural noise is not helping young men hear and respond. I am so grateful for an environment in my youth that helped me respond.
Dr. Knight: How about an easy question: what is your favorite film at this time? Book?
Father Jason: My favorite films are the new film about Pope Francis: A Man of His Word and the recently released “Paul: The Apostle of Jesus". Both are like being on a retreat and I would encourage all to see both!
Dr. Knight: Do you think the sexual harassment in the workplace has increased?
Father Jason: I don’t think that sexual harassment has increased, I think that now it is rightly seen and called out as radically unacceptable, in a way that perhaps was never called out. One of the gifts of today’s culture is that it is becoming less secretive about sexual misconduct and much more open and transparent about calling sexual misconduct, sexual misconduct. Thank God for that. Certainly we in the Catholic Church have had to go through that transformation, and to the extent that our honestly now inspires others, I thanks God for the Resurrection of Honesty that came from the death of clerical sexual abuse.
Dr. Knight: Do you think/feel that the use of social media in our parishes can assist young people to think about knowing/loving/serving God through their ‘cyber-neighbor’?
Father Jason. I think that young people need to encounter Jesus first and foremost. Perhaps that happens through their parents or grandparents, perhaps that happens at a retreat or in their High School or College. Once they encounter Jesus, and decide that they want to continue to walk with Him, then there are some spectacular tools on Social media in our cyber world, that can support them on their journey. We all need support on the journey to walk with Jesus, young and old. Parishes can use text, apps, blogs, Instagram or any other tools to keep good content and good support in front of our
young people! If young people can find that support through their parish, on a prayer app, through daily reflections on scripture, or by watching videos that help them know Jesus more deeply, then praise God!
Dr. Knight: As one of the leaders in the Renew My Church program, you are able to educate and spiritually form many people in the society through your work. What issues are predominantly on your mind and heart?
Father Jason: Spiritually speaking, on my heart is the notion that we all have to engage in the renewal process! Well, what does that mean? I have not met too many Catholics who feel comfortable talking about their journey with Jesus. If we can’t talk about our journey with Jesus, then we fall into an understanding that our faith if private. It is certainly personal, but it is the opposite of private, it is radically relational, we have to share our faith with others. This is just one component, but one that is essential if there is to be any renewal on a deep level. I know that this is tough and we were not formed to do this, but it absolutely is the path towards renewal. We are disciples of Jesus and therefore we all have heard the great commission to go forth and share Jesus till the ends of the earth. Structurally speaking, it will be important for Catholics of the Archdiocese to realize that the days of one parish one pastor are over for most parishes.
There simply are not enough pastors to go around, in any way shape or form. We have been lucky that the priest shortage has not hit us as hard as other places, but we are certainly getting there. One pastor over two parishes will mean you may not see the pastor every Sunday after Mass as you do now, and you may not be able to connect as easily. That is why we will have to rely upon the great lay women and men who dedicate their lives to working in the Church to carry on the leadership for the Church. Any structural changes that we take now are simply the necessary pre-condition for the spiritual renewal the God is intending for us in these days. Unlike most other Dioceses, we are embarking upon a two fold renewal Structural and Spiritual, and both have to happen well. Structural gets the right framework down, and a spiritual renewal will help fill the Churches up with folks who desire to know Jesus more deeply as a friend.
Dr. Knight: You’ve given many presentations with Cardinal Cupich on the importance of engaging in Renew my Church. Could you give us some insights into the effective/affective ways to begin that engagement?
Father Jason: There are so many ways to answer this question. Let me try a couple. One way of engaging in renewal is by specifically coming to know one other person at Mass on Sunday. I know it sounds overly simple, but we are not doing it. We walk in, and walk out. The only person we talk to is the Priest who says “The body of Christ” and we say “Amen”. If that is the only interaction we have at Mass, I think Jesus is sad. How many people do you know by name at Mass. Who was the last new person you met at Mass? What is their name? That is just the first step. Second step would be to get yourself into a small faith group. Perhaps it is young adult, perhaps it is an intergenerational group, but it is in this group that you can practice talking about your journey with Jesus. The hope is that it will be a safe place to share how you are walking with Jesus. For instance, as we have been inviting people into renewal and deeper friendship with Jesus, it has challenged me to be more articulate about how I hear and walk with Jesus. Leaving my pastoring ministry was very hard for me, however through prayer, I heard Jesus say “I have other things to show you!” A few months ago, my faithful companion Grace the dog, passed away after walking with me for all thirteen years that I pastored two parishes. While very very sad, and wanting to wallow in my sadness, in prayer I heard
Jesus say “live in gratitude” and I have since. Deep gratitude for the companionship of Grace! If you don’t have a trusted group to share these reflections, then with whom are you sharing them? Renewal means, know people, know your community, know Jesus and then share Jesus.
Dr. Knight: What is the funniest thing that has happened to you as a priest? How about the funniest parishioner story?
Father Jason: I thought it was pretty funny that I was assigned to be Pastor of St. Benedict Parish ten years after I had served their as an Associate Pastor. It was funny because I knew many people’s names, but I did not know what had happened in their lives from the previous ten years. It was a fun reconnection! I also enjoyed watching my dog interact with all the parishioners in the rectory. She was a smart dog and was quiet all day long, until the receptionist left for the night. Then, as if a switch was turned, if someone rang the bell after hours, she would bark like crazy! She was a funny little dog.
I really enjoyed showing the bilingual kids, the my dog, too, was bilingual. By teaching her a few commands in English as well as Spanish, she came off as Grace the wonder bilingual dog!
Dr. Knight: You speak of your relationship with Christ what stands out for you in helping others develop that relationship?
Father Jason: Sharing it!
Dr. Knight: Where do you hope our church will be in five years?
Father Jason: I look forward to our Church being finished with the Structural renewal that we need to work on across the Arch, and diving more deeply into the Spiritual renewal that will help reverse the downward trend of Mass attendance and lack of engagement. As the Spiritual renewal takes hold over the next twenty years, my prayer is that we Catholics are able to better articulate our journey with Jesus and how he has impacted our lives. If we could shepherd Catholics into talking about their journey with Jesus, then we will have come a long way! Then we all be come bearers of the good news, we all become evangelizers, people who know Jesus and share Jesus. The joint Structural and Spiritual renewal that we are embarking upon is the biggest moment of renewal we have seen since the Second Vatican Council, over fifty years ago. This radically excites me!
Dr. Knight: What other issues do you have as a priority for our work as a society?
Father Jason: Personally speaking, I am not prone to identifying priorities for us as a society, but I can share that I fear that we are losing the ability to relate to one another! I fear that we simply don’t take the time to get to know others in our lives. I fear that this inability to relate, dives us to loneliness, isolation, and alienation. This scares me as a culture, and this certainly scares me for the Church, because our Church is absolutely a faith of relationship and connection. We cannot love Jesus in isolation. Jesus didn’t love in isolation and neither can we. We share Jesus’ love with one another and
that means encounter, connection, and real engagement. My prayer is that we can reclaim this ability to relate to one another and to Jesus.
Dr. Knight: As a warrior for very important issues in the Archdiocese do you consider yourself as part of Jason and the Argonauts film?
Father Jason: I feel truly honored to minster with Cardinal Cupich as he calls our Archdiocese to renewal. One of the best part of my ministry, is working side by side with brother priests. As a pastor, we see each other once a month at Deanery meetings and that is about it. In this role, I have the joy of talking with Pastors daily and supporting their ministry in and around the Arch. What a gift! I see them working hard and hoping to make a real difference in the sharing Jesus with a hungry world. I don’t know about Jason and the Argonauts, but I do know about how much this Jason honors and appreciates the great work of his brother priests and pastors. Thank you so much for taking time to do this interview! You bring so much energy and enthusiasm to